THE EARLY SETTLERS OF CLEAR CREEK TOWNSHIP
By Nicholas Besser
The first German families that settled in the north part of Clear Creek Township came across the ocean with father's friend, John Blaise Sr. who brought along his three oldest boys and two oldest daughters, to-wit:- Theodore Blaise, the only one living now in Lancaster township, John Blaise, Fritz Blaise, Kate Blaise and Eva Blaise.  Mr. John Blaise bought property, principally timber land, from Caspar Klett, near Garibaldy in German township.

Mr. Michael Berg, Wendell Horras and Paul Peiffer settled on the west side of the creek in the north part of the township. Mr. Berg on section 4- Wendell Horras and Peifer took the whole section, 9, on beautiful prairie but scarce in timber.

These three families had their share of hardships and experience of early settler life.  The fall of 1847 kept them busy to prepare for winter, then to make rails for fencing.  Not having the experience of woodcraft, the isolated black oak trees, that had with stood ages of prairie fires, proved veritable Port Arthurs to their attacks.  Experienced men had to do an immense amount of hard pounding to even make fifty rails per day out of this kind of timber.  It took 4480 ten-foot rails and 1280 eight-foot stakes to fence a 40 acre lot good, then the hauling, equal to 115 cords of wood, was no child's play for a new beginner.

The next season, in the fall every one of them had malarial fever except Mr. Michael Berg, who had had his share coming up the Mississippi on a steamer.  So much so, that he was compelled to stop off at Burlington with the other families.

In the meantime the old gentlemen Blaise, Horras and Peiffer came to see mother and ascertain how near the description and prospects for settling, which I, as a twelve year old, had written home after father's demise, were correct.  When the party returned with teams to move their families and on hearing their report induced Mr. Berg to cast his lot with them.  His original intention was to locate in Wisconsin near a brother of his.  So Mr. Berg came to be our nearest and dearest neighbor.

Having been raised in the old country on a large rented estate, he had become an expert in raising and feeding horses.  Many a valuable lesson in stock raising I learned from his instructions. He also proved a Good Samaritan, when not one of his neighbors was able to even carry water for the sick.

Then came a very wet season.  The Skunk River ruined the mill property.  The winter of 1849 proved the severest we have experienced in our long residence in Iowa.  These three neighbors with a team endeavored to break a road to the mill and came very near loosing some of their best cattle, floundering in the snow and, had to give it up, returned and spent part of the night nursing their overtaxed stock.  Old man Wendell Horras, Sr. can yet remember that trip.  After these severe trials, their children having grown to be able helpers, their fields enlarged, all were prospering and happy looking for a brighter future and so reported to their different friends in the fatherland.

When Mr. Blaise returned to Germany to dispose of most of his real estate there, which he had left unsold, his wife and three children of school age staying, there on account of these advantages, people from far and near came to hear the reports verified by an eye witness. Then preparations were made to emigrate to the land were milk and honey flowed.

With the return of Herr Blaise came Lorenz Adrian, Grandpa Merschaand one Herber and several others. On this trip Mr. Blaise lost his wife at or near New Orleans.  One of the grandest, noblest women of our old country, a great loss which caused the disbanding of a once great and happy family.  So near the end of their long journey like Moses of old, she did not get to see her Cannaan her older children.  She was taken with the cholera.  This was in 1852.

These families, Berg, Horras, Peiffer and Kramers were Catholics.  Rev. Father Michels from West Point in Lee County came up and after given some instructions gave one-half dozen of their children their first holy communion at the residence of Mr. Berg.

Then in 1853 and 1854 came Jacob, Peter and Michael Becker, Henry, John and Joseph Stein, Wallerick, Engledinger, Olinger, Trierweiler, Kiefer, Wehr and others.  All of these were heads of large families. "Race suicide" was unknown to them.  These families would have been an inspiration even to a Roosevelt.

The new emigrants for several years made their Rendezvous at Mr. Berg's, some at Horras' and a good many at Paul Peiffer's until they had located.  There never was a charge for the accommodation and assistance; such were the social customs of that time.  All of these emigrants brought more or less ready cash and settled as near to each other as possible.  This created a boom in the price of land and stock.

A log cabin was erected for a temporary church.

Then came an emigrant movement from Wisconsin; and Michigan, Conrads, Vogels, Curts, Voetgle, Fritchen and several Griener families.  These parties bought out settlers west and east of the creek.

In 1855 a brick church was built which was replaced in 1899 by a more commodious building through the efforts of Father Ragger and the willing help of the Clear Creek congregation.

About 1852 or 1853 another valuable German emigration located in the west part of this township ort the west branch; William, August and Fred Goeldner and their uncle Ben Goeldner, John Goeldner, Ben Kerr, Naumann, Pimme, all of these men were from another part of Germany, Saxony, and of the Protestant persuasion, all first class emigrants.  Full 90 percent of Clear Creek township are German descendants of the above named early emigrants.

Right here I want to make a point by claiming that father was the pathfinder, together with Herr John Blaise.  They discussed the prospect of the three western territories- Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.  Father finally decided on this, then the new purchase.

In 1853 the Reinhart family arrived, consisting of old man Reinhart, his son John, a son-in-law, Mr. Felz, a widowed daughter who married Mr. Varain, there also came along John's friend, a Mr. Rondee, the best landscape painter of his day.  This man and a prominent and wealthy count, whose name I did not learn, had traveled all over Mexico and some of South American territory, spending a large fortune in obtaining sceneries; big chests full of sketches of this new world, to present to the then King Phillip of France and the French Academy of Art.  In return for this service he had given Rondee and the count a land grant of several counties of valuable land in some of the French possessions but before their titles were approved by the ministry, King Phillip was dethroned and Rondee's valuable land grant became null and void.  A gold medal was presented to him by the Academy of Art, I have seen it.  It was of large size with the inscription of his merits, its value in gold, about $190 and the satisfaction of having traveled in the far west was about all he had to console him for his loss.

I frequently met Rondee at Herr John Blaise's.  He was a highly cultured gentleman, a fine linguist, spoke fluently several languages and was a most excellent narrator.  The Mexican government had sent escorts from a squad of 20 to 100 soldiers with them and as French gentlemen this cost them piles of money.

When the Rock Island ran their first train into Washington, the Dutch Creek delegation, with John Reinhart and Rondee in the leading wagon.  The artist Rondee made a sketch of it so life like, that I could recognize several of the leading men in that crowd.  John Reinhart sent this sketch to the Harper's Bros. Illustrated Weekly of New York and in answer they said, they were sorry they were unable to do it justice as facsimile. But even then I thought it a great picture in a newspaper. Rondee soon after this returned to France. Reinhart moved to the town of Washington and soon became an eminent and wealthy lawyer.  Reinhart visited France in 1872 met his friend Rondee and on his return told me, Rondee had a fine position and was well-to-do.

Contributed by Kim Icenhower. Thank you Kim!

Reference: Kim Icenhower: "I am the great great granddaughter of Nicholas Besser.  My Grandmother, Irma (Striegel) Haag, the daughter of Mary (Besser) Striegel had copies of these stories, which were handed down to her children.  I was told they were factual accounts of his early life in Iowa."

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